AU Summit in Uganda Focuses on Infant and Maternal Health


Article Highlights

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Just five days after twin bombings rattled the capital city and killed 76 people watching the final match of the World Cup, the annual Summit of the African Union began here. World leaders and experts converged to discuss and debate programs and policies related to the summit’s theme -- maternal and infant health.

With the deadline to achieve the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, MDG, less than five years away, leaders agreed that Uganda is one African nation that has made substantial progress towards achieving its development goals, but advocates say much more still needs to be done to reduce infant and maternal mortality. While infant health indicators are improving here, advances in maternal health have remained stagnant. In response, Uganda has allocated billions in new infrastructure developments, including a new maternity ward at Kampala’s largest hospital, which is set to open next month.

In Uganda, the infant mortality rate has improved over the last 20 years. Death rates for children under five have also decreased. Maternal health indicators, however, have remained poor in the last two decades. The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey of 2009 reported that there are 435 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. If Uganda is to meet the MDG target, the mortality rate will have to shrink to 131 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015. Though a daunting task, some districts in Uganda have demonstrated that such steep declines are possible. In 2006 the World Health Organization, WHO, sponsored a program called Making Pregnancy safer. In the Soroti district, a rural district some 200 miles from Kampala, Dr. Godfrey Egwau, a consultant obstetrician at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital, reported a decrease in maternal deaths from 750 in 2000 to 190 deaths per 100,000 by 2006.  

“Our rule is simple: for each mother there must be a baby to go back with and for each baby, there must be a mother to go back home with,” Egwau told the WHO.

The government of Uganda was praised at the summit for implementing a number of interventions aimed at improving overall maternal and child health and for increasing government dollars for maternal and infant health projects.  In the national budget of 2010, Syda Bbumba, Uganda's finance minster, allocated more than 260 billion shillings, more than $1 million USD, to programs aimed at improving maternal and reproductive health. Bbumba reported that some of the money was earmarked for health infrastructure developments designed to better meet reproductive health needs.

One such infrastructure development is the new maternity ward at Mulago Hospital, a national referral and teaching hospital in Kampala. The hospital is converting one of its wings into a new labor suite that will include two operating theatres, a blood bank, laboratory and more beds. The current labor ward, which was meant to handle 20 mothers a day when it was opened in 1962, handles between 80 and 100 mothers daily.

The new suite will be located in Malago's Ward 5C and is expected to be operational by September 2010. Dr. Emmanuel Dumba, the hospital’s executive directors, says the expansion was intended to accommodate the increasing number of expectant women.

The next Summit of the African Union will take place in July 2011 with the theme, “Accelerating Youth empowerment for sustainable development.”